PASADENA, Calif., July 21 (UPI) — “Snowballs” forming in Saturn’s rings may give clues to the creation of planets in the early solar system, U.S. astronomers say.
Icy particles in the rings are clumping into snowballs, some as large as 12 miles across, under the gravitational effect of Prometheus, one of Saturn’s moons, ScienceDaily.com reported Tuesday.
A similar process probably occurred in the creation of planets and moons in the forming solar system, as gravity caused cosmic dust and debris to begin coalescing in larger and larger lumps, scientists say.
The snowballs were seen forming by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, now in its sixth year of orbiting Saturn.
“Scientists have never seen objects actually form before,” Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based in London, says.
“We now have direct evidence of that process and the rowdy dance between the moons and bits of space debris.”
Another NASA scientist says such processes have probably been going on since the solar system began.
“The new analysis fills in some blanks in our solar system’s history, giving us clues about how it transformed from floating bits of dust to dense bodies,” Linda Spilker, Cassini scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., says.
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